NAACP Text Updates

Justice Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court leaves a critical seat open. You can text “NAACP” to 40649 to receive text message updates and guidance from the North Carolina NAACP.

Proposed NC Constitutional Amendments

As the 2018 legislative session draws to a close, the General Assembly has introduced a slew of proposed constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot for voters in the fall.

This move comes before elections that threaten the Republican supermajority in both houses. Overriding vetoes from the governor and amending the constitution both require a 3/5 supermajority.

One proposal is to make photo identification a requirement for in-person voting. Other proposals include capping the state income tax and protecting the right to use “traditional methods” to hunt. Additionally, “Marsy’s Law” would support victim’s rights.

Two of the proposals have the potential to move power from the gubernatorial branch to the legislative one. First, one would give the general assembly the power to appoint the state board of elections and ethics enforcement. Second, Senate Bill 814 would change the process by which judicial vacancies are filled. A commission would review judicial nominations from the public and recommendations would be forwarded to the General Assembly. From there, the legislators would then send a minimum of two names to the governor, who would then pick the person to fill the vacancy.

Read more about all of the proposals here and here, and about the Senate bill 814 here.

NCGA Try to Force ID for Voting…AGAIN

Despite being told that it is unconstitutional to require and ID for voting, NC General Assembly is trying again to force an voting ID requirement on the citizens of North Carolina. This time they are trying to use a constitutional amendment, that will appear on Novembers ballot, to make showing ID mandatory for voters in North Carolina.

When you see this constitutional amendment on your ballot, VOTE NO! An ID requirement for voting disproportionally chills the voting rights of African Americans and senior citizens. Read more about the proposed constitutional amendment here.

On the Criminalization of Immigrants: Behind the Dangerous Rhetoric of Family Separation as Punishment

When I am not at work advocating for criminal justice reform, I spend the vast majority of my time with my son.  He is about a year and a half.  For the past week or so, as I spend time with him, I think about the children who are around his age who are in the horrific position of having been separated from their parents as punishment for crossing the border.  Last week when I buckled him into his car seat, I noticed that it appeared to be the same model as those I had seen in a photograph of a bus designed for ICE agents to transport young children after ripping them from families.  As I put my toddler to bed last night, I felt distracted by the thought of what bedtime might look like for a toddler who has been placed into the custody of people who ignore their cries as they are separated. “Again?”, my son asks while pressing his Llama Llama book into my hands.

 

What justification can there possibly be for taking immigrant children as young as 53 weeks old from their parents and shipping them away, even to other states in some cases?  The answer reveals an age-old way that American society has used to dehumanize people, especially people of color, throughout history.  The government has justified various atrocities against people by labeling them criminals.  According to the new “zero tolerance” approach recently unveiled by Attorney Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, anyone who crosses into the United States illegally will face criminal prosecution.  This means that parents who arrive with children stay in federal jails while their children are sent to HHS shelters.  Last month, Senator Kamala Harris questioned Secretary Nielsen about the administration’s separation policy.  At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Secretary Nielsen dodged questions about why she was separating families.  When directly asked, she responded that her decision “has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted.”  She continued with thinly veiled irritation, “If you are a parent or you are a single person or you happen to have a family, if you cross the between the ports of entry, we will refer you for prosecution.  You have broken US law.”  In short, she justifies snatching children from their parents by criminalizing them.

 

In “The New Jim Crow”, Michelle Alexander comments on the indignities suffered by those we label criminals, saying “Criminals, it turns out, are the one social group in America we have permission to hate.  In ‘colorblind’ American, criminals are the new whipping boys.  They are entitled to no respect and little moral concern.  Like the ‘coloreds’ in the years following emancipation, criminals today are deemed a characterless and purposeless people, deserving of our collective scorn and contempt.  When we say someone was ‘treated like a criminal’, what we mean to say is that he or she was treated as less than human, like a shameful creature.”

 

Of course, family separation is a consequence of incarceration resulting from many crimes.  In theory, people are incarcerated and separated from their families as a public safety measure or where those people present a flight risk.  In practice, criminal justice advocates know well that this is not the case.  For instance, people are jailed for no reason other than that they are too poor to pay bail.  Here, however, we see family separation being used in and of itself as punishment.  In a recent interview, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told NPR that family separation could be used as a “tough deterrent” for immigrants who cross the border illegally.  Distracting from the question of why the inhumane practice of family separation is necessary, he stated, “[b]ut the big point is that they elected to come illegally into the United States”, and noted that this was a “technique” that “no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”  In other words, they deserve this punishment.  This rhetoric is incredibly dangerous, as it begs the question of what denial of humanity we are willing to accept for people, especially those who pose no danger to us, simply because they break a law.

 

The government is using this “technique” to criminalize and punish families who are incredibly vulnerable.  They have already been displaced from their homes, and their children have one thing left in their lives to anchor them to familiarity: their parents.  In an interview on MSNBC, Lee Gelernt, Director of the ACLU Immigrant’s Rights Project told Chris Hayes the story of one mother whose child was taken from her.  She was incarcerated for a few days after her child was taken from her.  For seven months didn’t know where her child was.  She was in Texas and all she was told was that her child was in Chicago.  She told her attorneys, “I don’t know whether Chicago is a man, a place, a facility…”.  Once separated from their parents, the extreme vulnerability of unaccompanied children makes them prime targets for abuse.  Based on 30,000 pages of documents obtained through a public records request, the ACLU has already alleged physical, mental, and sexual abuse at the hands of Customs and Border Protection agents.

 

The way that immigrants are prosecuted for crossing the border makes a mockery of justice.  They are often tried en masse, in proceedings that last a few minutes, without meaningful legal representation.  Recordings of a federal magistrate’s court in Brownsville Texas capture some of one such trial of 40 defendants, with some of them asking questions about where their children are and whether they will be reunited with them.  Even those who present themselves willingly at the border are processed in this way.  Previously, it was rare to charge asylum seekers with crimes.  If they were, they were put into detention with their children while they pursued their claims.  Alternatively, they were released with supervision with their children.  Now they are churned out of a broken criminal “justice” system with little regard for their rights or their humanity.

 

As we talk about this crisis unfolding at the border, we cannot stop at asking whether immigrants should be treated like criminals.  We must pay attention to what this question implies.  It implies that at some level, we accept our administration’s dangerous contention that just breaking a law somehow rightfully permits the government to separate immigrant families as we did to enslaved people.  We must ask ourselves how simply labeling a person a criminal can justify stripping them of their humanity.  We must challenge the notion that, as Michelle Alexander describes it, even people labeled criminals should be “entitled to no respect and little moral concern.”

 

As I imagine my son growing older, I fear having to explain this shameful chapter in our history for so many reasons.  I fear having to explain why adults in the world have so willfully disregarded the basic human dignity of others.  I fear that once he is old enough to make painful historical connections between his history as a young man of color and current systemic oppression in its many forms, it will threaten his sense of power and security in the world.  And I know that still, I am fortunate that I can save these conversations for later and redirect my attention to the precious time I spend with him now.  I am fortunate that I can ponder these fears as he sits in my lap, asking me to read to him one more time.  As others are denied this luxury, we must think critically about how we allow others to justify it.

B. Tessa Hale, JD

Associate Director, Carolina Justice Policy Center

Free Criminal Record Expunction Seminar and Legal Help

On Saturday, June 9, from 12pm to 2pm, there will be a criminal record expunction seminar and free legal assistance offered at the Holton Community Center Auditorium, 401 N. Driver Street, Durham NC 27703. The 30 minute seminar will cover criminal record expunctions, certificates of relief, and driver’s license restoration. Following the seminar, attendees can apply for free legal help with criminal record expunctions. Legal help is limited to the first 150 Legal Aid-eligible Durham residents.

Mecklenberg County Commissioner Advocates for Hiring of Individuals with Criminal Records

Mecklenburg County commissioner Pat Cotham recently urged three health care CEOs to consider hiring people with criminal records as a way to give them a second chance. Her request occurred as part of a Charlotte Chamber health care summit, during a conversation about fighting local poverty. She was speaking to the chief executives of Atrium Health, Novant Health, and Premier. Cotham was involved in helping people with criminal records find jobs before she became commissioner. Learn more here.